Fifth Circuit Upholds University of Texas Admissions Policy

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld, for a second time, the University of Texas’ consideration of race as one of many factors in admissions. In a 2-1 ruling, the federal appeals court rejected the case of Abigail Fisher, a White student not accepted to the University of Texas in 2008 who claimed she was refused entrance due to the university’s affirmative action policy.

“We are persuaded that to deny UT Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience,” wrote Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham. The case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court last year in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, but was sent back on remand to the appeals court to apply “strict scrutiny” in assessing the University of Texas’ admissions policies.

In a statement on Tuesday applauding the decision, University of Texas President Bill Powers said that the university remains “committed to assembling a student body at The University of Texas at Austin that brings with it the educational benefits of diversity while respecting the rights of all students. This ruling ensures that our campus, our state and the entire nation will benefit from the exchange of ideas and thoughts that happens when students who are diverse in all regards come together in the classroom, at campus events and in all aspects of campus life.”

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who represented UT Austin’s Black Student Alliance in the case, similarly praised Tuesday’s ruling. “This decision should stand as a declaration of the ongoing importance and legality of affirmative action efforts that holistically evaluate applicants for admission in higher education,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel.

Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, said that “Like all of the unique factors in students’ backgrounds, race matters – including for Asian Americans, who are a broadly diverse group ourselves.” That sentiment – that race still matters – was echoed by Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who said “We can only hope that the hardcore ‘colorblindness’ brigade will now allow universities to go about the critical business of training a leading workforce for our increasingly diverse and interconnected society.”

Fisher has said she will appeal the ruling. [Update: On July 29, Fisher’s attorneys filed an appeal asking the full Fifth Circuit to rehear the case.]